Remembering a super Gael
The late Billy Colvin was one of the legendary stars of Queen’s hockey in the 1960s.
When some intrepid soul writes the definitive history of Queen’s hockey – from the Tricolour’s glorious pioneer days to the great-to-grim years as the University’s No. 2 sport – a vital chapter could be devoted to the “F-C-C Factor” – that is, the Flanigan-Colvin-Carnegie era, when three former captains became head coaches and survived and savoured seasons of old, new, or no on-campus rink through the hectic postwar years, the memorable ‘50s, ’60s, and ‘70s.
Spliced between the leaderships of Keith (Moon) Flanigan, Arts’50, and Robert (Bob) Carnegie, Arts’61, PHE’62, was the exemplary service of Billy Colvin, BPHE’61, LLB’66, one of the most colourful personalities and performers ever to earn a golden “Q.” After 75 years, most of them devoted to Canada’s national winter sport, he died Nov. 3, 2010, at Huntsville, ON, amidst a host of mourners, including former hockey Gaels.
Husband, father, teacher, lawyer, Olympic athlete and a lover of golf, squash, rowing and sailing, this fair-haired, 165-pound Torontonian carried his Christian names of “Billy Norman” with pride through 15 seasons of amateur and semi-pro puck-chasing that ranged from a “slapshot-like” season with Toledo Mercurys to a bronze medal Olympic year with the Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchman in 1956.
The years that resonate, however, are 1958-1961, when Billy mixed studies and hockey at Queen’s with two solid seasons in the OHA Senior circuit. He won the scoring championship (33 goals, 33 assists) with Kingston CKLCs, then starred with the Merchants and worked in a three-game pro tryout with the EPHL Kingston Frontenacs. The following years at Kirkland Lake, he earned $100 a week as a secondary school teacher and pocketed $25 a game playing senior hockey at nearby Rouyn-Noranda. Then he made two life-changing decisions. He met and married fellow teacher Jeannine LeBlanc in June 1962 and a year later moved to Kingston, where he re-entered Queen’s to study Law at age 28.
“Hockey was such a big part of his life,” Jeannine recalled at Huntsville, where she had nursed him through four hospital visits in six months after he suffered a stroke. “He loved Kingston,” she added. And he loved Queen’s, where he had obtained an Honours Phys-Ed degree in 1961. A pivotal person in his entry into law, she said, was his old coach and close friend, Keith Flanigan, now a retired judge living in Ottawa. “Billy was a great player and scored a lot of goals,” Flanigan says. “He was a real team player [who] made his teammates better than they were.”
Ken Linseman, MSc’63, played minor and junior hockey with Billy at St. Michael’s College, Toronto. They took different routes to Kingston, but Ken played senior and intercollegiate hockey with Billy here. “He had a wonderful deke,” says the retired city works commissioner. Former Queen’s Athletic Director Bob Carnegie, who followed Billy as coach in 1967, described the sterling centre as “the last of the Dipsy-doodle Dandies – a Max Bentley type – a great playmaker with a good snapshot and an uncanny ability pass at the right time.”
In the early 1960s Ontario-Quebec university hockey was in a transition period. For a few seasons the Gaels played fewer than 10 games while they strove, with Colvin’s help, to return to intercollegiate competition. Recruiting was unheard of. In fact, in late October 1964, newly appointed coach Colvin inserted a brief notice in Queen’s Journal inviting “any interested players” to attend a meeting at the gymnasium lecture room.
“He was a fine lawyer – highly regarded – one of those guys loved by everyone.”
When 22 prospects showed up, the resulting team successfully skated through an expanded 16-game schedule and celebrated victories over Toronto Varsity Blues and McGill.
Coach Flanigan recalls telling Captain Billy and his mates they were not the greatest team, but there were certainly the smartest! “We had more PhDs, lawyers, doctors, engineers and teachers – a great academic line-up. They were there to be students [first] and they succeeded,” Flanigan recalls.
In Kingston, Billy is remembered as a premier player-coach and an MVP award winner who reveled in Gael Force Booster Club socials and alumni games. In Huntsville, where he built a 30-year law practice, he won recognition as a town councilor, a mayoralty candidate, a long-time coach of Midgets and Oldtimers hockey, and supporter of worthy community causes. Former teammate Justice J.D. (Doug) Cunningham, Law’67, who joined other ex-Gaels at Colvin’s crowded funeral mass, acknowledged Billy’s outstanding athletic prowess, but also stressed, “He was a fine lawyer – highly regarded – one of those guys loved by everyone.”
Surviving besides Billy’s wife are three sons, William, Marc and Jamie, and four grandchildren.
Kingston writer Bill Fitsell is a life-long observer of Queen’s hockey and one of the game’s foremost historians.